Tanker, barges damaged in Houston collision during poor visibility


An outbound Aframax oil tanker was damaged in a collision with multiple barges traveling inbound in the Houston Ship Channel.

The June 2 accident tore a gash in the 800-foot Minerva Maya and caused all five barges to break away from the tugboat M.L. Crochet. The barges floated free in the channel but were quickly rounded up, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Investigators who have reviewed available data and vessel communications equipment aren’t sure what caused the accident, or which ship was at fault, said Lt. Derricka DeJean, chief of investigations for Marine Safety Unit Texas City.

“Both of them were on their side, but it looks like one drifted too far to one side and they hit each other,” she said, adding that both sides claim the other is at fault.

M.L. Crochet was not traveling in the barge lane at the time of the accident, the Coast Guard said.

A review of vessel traffic service (VTS) data yielded few clues, she said, because it wasn’t zoomed in closely enough. “All you see is those two really close, but you can’t make out which is on the wrong side of channel.”

She said it’s possible the Coast Guard will never know what happened, an outcome she described as extremely unusual.
The accident occurred at about 0830 during a period of rain, high winds and thunderstorms in the Houston area. Coast Guard records indicate “visibility was at a minimum,” DeJean said.

The Greek-flagged tanker was outbound toward Port Arthur, Texas, after unloading at the Port of Houston. The twin-screw, 1,000-hp M.L. Crochet was pushing barges loaded with lube oil and naphtha toward a fleeting area on the San Jacinto River.

The two vessels did not make passing arrangements and were not required to, DeJean said. Investigators don’t believe either vessel was trying to avoid another vessel or obstruction prior to the accident.

“We initially got word that there was another vessel that the Minerva Maya was trying to avoid, but when we looked at the VTS playback, the vessel was nowhere near the Minerva Maya,” DeJean said.

The barges scraped across much of Minerva Maya’s hull, opening a gash above the waterline on its port bow. The barges were damaged, although none sank and none of the oil escaped, the Coast Guard said.

The barges floated free in the middle of the channel until M.L. Crochet and another tugboat rounded them up. There were no injuries.

Two Houston Pilots were aboard Minerva Maya passing orders to the ship’s crew, the Coast Guard said. It’s not clear what if any impact they had on the accident.

Henry de La Garza, a spokesman for the pilots group, declined to comment on the incident “until the investigation is concluded and a report of findings is issued.”

Minerva Maya is managed by Athens, Greece-based Minerva Marine. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

M.L. Crochet is operated by Louisiana-based M.L. Crochet Towing Co. Contact information for the company could not be found.    

By Professional Mariner Staff